ORHAN KEMAL CENGİZ

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ORHAN KEMAL CENGİZ
April 05, 2012, Thursday

The problems faced by minority schools

Last week the History Foundation held a meeting to evaluate new regulations on minority schools.

During this meeting they made a comprehensive evaluation of the problems faced by these schools. Even though the report cites some positive developments, it also shows that the mentality governing all these relations has not changed at all.

One of the most striking things illustrated in this report is that the number of minority schools has dramatically dropped over time. You will see the numbers below.

We can also understand from this report that the insistence on enlisting only students with Turkish citizenship is one of the major factors that has led to the extinction of these schools. Finally, one of the major signs showing that the prevailing mentality in Turkey has not changed is the fact that the government still maintains that minorities must “reciprocate” concessions from the government.

Below are some paragraphs I have highlighted from the report, published in March of this year: “In 1884, there were 6,437 schools run by non-Muslims across the Empire and these schools enjoyed a significant amount of autonomy. These included schools that belonged to Greeks (Rum), Gregorian Armenians, Armenian Catholics, Jews, Bulgarians, Serbs, Wallachs, Catholics, Bulgarian Catholics, Armenian Protestants, Greek Catholics, Syriacs, Chaldeans, Syriac Catholics, Chaldean Catholics, Maronites, Samiris and Jacobites. Specifically in İstanbul, there were 302 schools belonging to Greeks, Armenians, Armenian Catholics, Jews and Bulgarians and 29,850 students attended these schools.

“After the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the schools run by non-Muslim minorities faced a number of bureaucratic restrictions and unfair practices that varied depending on the country’s foreign policy. Compared to the fact that there were 138 schools operated by non-Muslim minorities in the country even in the academic period of 1924-1925, today there are only 16 Armenian, five Greek and one Jewish schools, all concentrated in İstanbul, and about 3,070 Armenian, 210 Greek and 580 Jewish students are attending these schools.”

The report lists the problems these schools face as follows:

“Although a separate law and regulation must be passed about the non-Muslim minorities’ schools, they are still governed by the Law No. 5580 on Private Educational Institutions, and they are treated as private schools under the new regulation and they continue to be listed as foreign schools. ... As they are treated as private schools, they have to observe the regulations which are applicable to private schools. This prevents them from enrolling students above a certain quota and they suffer from heavy financial burdens although they hardly eke out a balanced budget. “A separate law and regulation should be enacted specifically for the schools run by non-Muslim minorities. ... As they are not private schools, the state must allocate funds from the central budgets for these schools.

“Notwithstanding the Turkish media networks’ claim that people who are not Turkish citizens are allowed to attend these schools ... only Turkish citizens who belong to the specific minority are admitted to these schools.”“Permitting foreign students to attend the schools belonging to non-Muslim minorities is of particular importance to Armenian and Greek schools as the current legislation does not allow people from Greece and Armenia who live in İstanbul to attend these schools. This not only restricts the right to education of these people from Greece and Armenia, but also keeps these schools that face the risk of being closed down due to lack of students in sufficient numbers from attracting more students.

“As was the case with the previous regulation, the new regulation suggests that the principle of reciprocity should be implemented for some schools. ... This principle violates non-Muslim religious minorities’ right to education particularly with respect to provision of course materials, appointment of teachers, etc. Indeed, the principle of reciprocity treats non-Muslim religious minorities as ‘aliens,’ hurting them and putting them amid a heap of bureaucratic and political problems. For instance, under the Cultural Agreement signed between Turkey and Greece, for Greece to send course materials and/or teachers to a Greek school in İstanbul, an equal amount of course materials and/or teachers should be sent to the Turkish schools in Western Thrace. If this can’t be done, the Greek schools in İstanbul are left without teachers or materials.”

Finally, the report mentions that these schools have to appoint a Turkish deputy director who acts, in practice, like an inspector and guardian over the whole school structure.

I hope this important meeting and its findings will be taken seriously and the shortcomings of these “new reforms” will be corrected. It is quite obvious that minority schools have vital importance for the future of minorities in Turkey. Their problems well deserve serious attention!

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